5 Rhodesian Roses: Women Farming On The Front Line Where No Prisoners Were Taken & No Mercy Given
An insight into the experience of the courageous black and white rural women of Rhodesia. They found themselves farming in a terrible battle-zone. That most bore it with wonderful humour and stoicism is testimony to their Rhodesian Spirit!
Rhodesian Rose #1: Eileen, A Young Farmers Wife Speaks To Us
Rhodesian Rose #2: Jennifer, A Farming “Widow” As It Was Called When Hubby Was On Call-Up
Many farmers served in the army and their absence on their 6 week call-ups was keenly felt by the wives, children and staff left alone. From The Farmer At War:
“At first I worried like hell… I was going to pieces fast. Although I looked after the farm bookkeeping and ran the store, I had no idea of planting crops, fertilising and reaping. Bill did all that. Then came the terrs and Bill was frequently called out off the farm and into other districts. I had to learn fast.”
And she did, reading up anything and everything and taking a course on tobacco management specially run by the Rhodesia Tobacco Association for farming “widows”.
“No, I don’t worry about the situation which in our part of the country has worsened. Not a day goes by unless there are reports of local farmers being shot at, ambushed or hitting landmines. It’s every day now, but we haven’t been hit … yet.
“They murdered our next door neighbour some weeks back. She was an elderly lady living on her own. She’d never harmed anyone in her life. They just went into the homestead and shot her dead. That kind of happening literally on our doorstep is shocking, it’s frightening. But we’ve adapted, we’re living with it. We’ve got to. Other farmers have been hit over and over again, and they’re sticking it out. No we’ve got no intention of walking away from this.”
Look, only the other day our suppliers phoned the farm to tell me they couldn’t deliver the seed we had ordered because there were no police escorts available, and they couldn’t say when they would be able to deliver. Now you can’t farm without seed and you just can’t hang around waiting.”
Bill was away, so I said ‘to hell with this’, jumped in the truck and drove to town some 50 kilometres along dirt roads, collected the seed and drove back the same day. Yes, I was scared particularly along one stretch which winds up and down hilly country. Terrorists had set up a number of ambushes there, but no-one has been killed. I kept thinking to myself, there’ll be an ambush around the next corner. I tell you, I kept seeing terrs in the bush.”
I know it was silly of me, a stupid and dangerous thing to do. I didn’t dare tell Bill .. . he’d have killed me. He wouldn’t have waited for the terrorists to do it. He’d be furious. But that’s life.”
Rhodesian Rose #3: Pamela Shaw, An Indispensable Part of The Agri Alert Team For Farmers
It was difficult being on the farm during the war years. I was stationed in Beitbridge running the radio room. I was at work by 05:45 every morning calling the farmers on the Agric Alert checking that they were safe. Once I had done that it was calling all our Scouter Bases, Relay Stations, OPs and then sitting in front of the Telex Machine sending off the Sitrep to Bulawayo.
Once that was all done it was time to update the maps with pins representing land mines, contacts, ambushes etc.
Checking that there was fuel for fixed wing and helicopters at all the farms, bases etc. Reporting on what supplies were needed etc.
By 08:00 my boss, SB usually someone from the Army/Airforce would stroll in and the day would be non stop until all checks were done with the farmers and everyone else at 18:00. I’d usually collapse and rest for an hour when I got back to my flat by 18:30 – 19:00 (if nothing was happening that needed my attention). I lived the closest to the Station so I would run down and be there in a few minutes if something serious was happening.
As you know everyone was in danger during the last few years before Independence in Rhodesia. War is a terrible time for everyone.
Rhodesian Rose #4 And #5
The following accounts were written without giving the names of either the black or white woman. That is probably because the accounts were written down as Mugabe’s ZANU thugs were about to be given Rhodesia and, as expected, embark on the greatest systematic mass rape and murder orgy of revenge, our country had ever seen. Unleashed from the negotiated peace treaties made with Cecil Rhodes – savage inter-tribal conflict returned to ‘liberated’ Zimbabwe but this time the stakes were higher and the population was more than 10 times greater.
Rhodesian Rose #4: Too Cowardly To Attack A Military Base, They Targeted A White Homestead
THERE’S an audible crackle, not loud or piercing, but as if someone is screwing up sweet paper close to your head, and like a string of green fairylights, tracers arc their way almost lazily towards the darkened homestead. Immediately, or so it seems, from behind an unlit window an FN rifle barks its harsh reply, followed by another and another. From a rock outcrop, slightly elevated so that attacking fire is aimed advantageously down on the farmhouse, a mere 100 metres away, the first mortar thumbs skywards. It soars high over the house and, thankfully for its occupants, explodes harmlessly in the bush. The long swish of a rocket, the deadliest of projectiles, is followed by an explosive thump.
A hit! Hot lead ricochets off brick wall and rock outcrop, sparking, whining in a cacophony of crossfire.
As that first attacking bullet sped through the sound barrier cracking out its message of death, she awakes almost expectantly, rolls from the bed to the floor and crawls on hands and knees towards the radio alarm which will alert Security Forces and neighbouring families. There’s no panic or hesitation. She’s practiced this over and again. Night after night. . .just in case. But this is no practice…it’s the real thing.
Her actions are automatic. Purely instinctive. She gropes for the alarm button, finds it and presses. She’s oblivious to the high-pitched scream coming from the set, a scream of alarm that lasts a mere 12 seconds, but to her could be 12 long hours; oblivious too to bleeding legs, wounds inflicted as she laboured across splintered glass. Only seconds, not long now.
“Control.. .go”, the disembodied voice comes over clearly, calmly. Reassuring.
“Under attack from the north,” she replies, her voice low but steady. No trace of hysteria, yet… that will come later. “Small arms, mortar, I think. Maybe rockets, too.”
Only a split second before she made that first move (was she really awake, or still asleep and motivated by some unseen hand. Or was it just another repetitive nightmare?) her husband’s FN cracked out its first retaliatory burst, unaimed, unsighted. From their son’s bedroom came a second burst and a third burst of automatic fire from their police guard. In another bedroom two small youngsters huddle together under their beds. It had been a great game to dive for cover when Dad shouted “bang, bang, you’re dead.” It was a game that saved their lives. They, too, were calm, solemn-eyed and seemingly oblivious to the shattering noise of battle.
The attack ends as suddenly as it started. Silence. Then a muted thump and the night sky is lit by an orange glow. Retreating, the raiders fire barns and equipment, drive off the farm labour and fire their compound.
In that attack 42 mortar bombs were dropped into the farm complex and approximately 2 000 rounds of small arms fire pumped into the farmhouse.
At first light Security Forces launch follow-up operations on the ground and in the air. The hunters become the hunted, although they still hold a trump card. By day they hide their weapons and lose their identities among the tribesmen in the sprawling villages of neighbouring Tribal Trust Lands, the traditional homes of almost four million subsistence farmers many of whom have been cowed and subverted by their ruthless so-called “liberators.”
Rhodesian Rose #5: She Farmed Until They Murdered Her
At the opposite end of the country in the remote Matobo District, 120 km south of Bulawayo, terrorists came for a harmless black woman farmer. Her son tells of “the night they murdered my mother”.
They came to her in the night. Three tall, young men brandishing AK rifles.
“Woman,” the group leader asked my mother, “how dare you work against the liberation forces of Zimbabwe? We have heard all about you, your two sons (they are policemen) who are collaborating with the enemy. Why haven’t you told them to leave their jobs and come back home?”
For a few seconds, words failed her. She simply stared at them, their weapons and their menacing faces. It was an agonising moment.
The question was repeated, in a more threatening tone.
“I am not sure if I know what you are talking about. And what on earth have I done wrong?” asked the woman of 53, her arms folded, in a sad and telling moment.
“You will follow us to our court, where, like many others, you will be tried for your crimes,” they said, dragging her out of her home.
My sister, with her three children aged between five years and six months, and my brother’s wife, who had three-month-old twins, were told to follow.
They ordered my mother to sit down under a big marula tree. As a flurry of questions was levelled at her she was kicked about, beaten and tortured.
After being vigorously interrogated, both my sister and brother’s “wife were ordered to leave the scene.
“And we will be coming for you, too,” the terrorists added.
While the women stood undecided as to what to do next, the terrorists wasted no time. They opened fire … one, two, three shots .. . and there my mother lay. She was dead. Dead for “sins of commission and omission”, as one of the terrorists said.
My sister and brother’s wife couldn’t wait to see any more. With the only clothes on their bodies, some of the children at their backs and others in their arms, they ran throughout the night — some 50 km — to the nearest bus stop at Kezi. Because they had no money, they had to plead with the bus conductor to take them into the bus, which was going to Bulawayo. The grief-stricken and weary survivors of the ordeal told this horrifying and harrowing story when I met them a few days later. But perhaps the tragedy of it all, said my sister as she wept bitterly by her bed, is that
“our mother had to be buried, if at all, by strangers, without any of her five children attending her final farewell”.
“Is this the freedom they are fighting for .. . the bestial and barbaric killings perpetuated in the name of freedom and justice? Heaven help us, we don’t need such freedom.”
I couldn’t have agreed with her more. I will always remember that last time I saw my mother, cheerful as she ever had been. She had journeyed all the long day to Bulawayo last December to see me on my arrival after an absence of five years. Seemingly with a premonition of death, she told me,
“I don’t think there is much life for me, my son. It’s no longer safe to live in our homes today. But we always hope… only hope… things might improve. But even when they kill me, don’t worry yourself too much, my son. It seems we have finally reached that point… Be yourself. Be a man in this troubled land. And, as long as you don’t forget Him above, He will always be with you.”